Authoritarianism and hedonism don’t go largely hand in hand. Unless, that is, you find yourself in Friedrichshain in east Berlin, inside the concrete walls of fabled tech-mecca Berghain.
Gearing up to play tonight in its house-dedicated wing, Panorama Bar, is the man guilty of one of the most ubiquitous dance riffs in recent years with 2010’s ‘Coma Cat’. The German native has also been tasked with curating the line-up, selecting Kim Ann Foxman and a takeover from Bristol’s Livity Sound, featuring Peverelist and Kowton. Yet there’s no guarantee that Marco Niemerski’s manager, press officer and even girlfriend will meet the approval of Sven, the club’s barbed wire-tattooed, seven-foot gatekeeper.
This is a place that firmly rejects the mainstream, the corporate. Staunchly anti-establishment, giant Wolfgang Tillmans canvases of genitalia line its walls and all manner of intoxication and sexual misdemeanours are encouraged in dark cubbyholes. “People can do whatever they want to,” Marco, better known as Tensnake, tells Clash beforehand, over dinner. “There are not many places like that in the world so that makes it very special.”
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Tensnake feat. Fiora, ‘See Right Through’, from ‘Glow’
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While Berlin has traditionally favoured the stripped-back kick, Marco’s hometown, Hamburg, birthed house music for the country through cult club The Front, where Klaus Stockhausen and Boris Dlugosch injected the first echoes of Chicago grooves.
“When I was 16, I was driving a scooter and listening to indie music, ’60s, mod music,” he recalls. A friend took him to the club aged 17, a night which naturally made a huge impact. “It was also a gay club, so you walked in and there was gay porn on TVs everywhere, it was really wild, everybody was doing everything. That was my first contact with house music.”
We step inside the former thermal power station – the very same that Richie Hawtin once got thrown out of – and Marco takes to the decks at four in the morning to the reception of a rapturous crowd. But you wonder whether, within this über-underground environment, it’s common knowledge that the night’s curator is (at the time of writing) about to release a debut album not on Ostgut Ton, Kompakt, or his own Mirau imprint. Instead, it’s out through a major label. Which, for the chin-strokers, might imply a dirty word: “pop”.
‘Glow’ (review) is a pop release, but one which draws from a wealth of dance music expertise, and particularly a disco-informed childhood. Marco’s older brother dumped a load of disco records on him aged 12 – “Before I was only listening to ‘The Smurfs Greatest Hits’, or whatever!” – so he spent his formative years hooked on that sound. “I’m lucky it wasn’t metal!” he adds. That ’70s essence has inevitably seeped into his debut, which he stresses is not another ‘Coma Cat’ but instead comes peppered with honey-coated downtempo tracks (‘58 BPM’) as well as euphoric would-be anthems.
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Tensnake feat. Fiora, ‘58 BPM’, from ‘Glow’
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He’s not shy about his desire to make earnest, good pop. “[Pop that] doesn’t jump in your face – leftfield pop,” he explains. “I try to make something in the middle that I would love to hear on the radio, because a lot of stuff that you hear is just really crap. I’m trying to do my own version of pop music.”
Man-of-the-minute Nile Rodgers joined the production ranks on ‘Love Sublime’, an event which Marco confesses made him “super nervous – I had to down red wine”. Jamie Lidell and Stuart Price also feature as collaborators on the LP, as does London wunderkind MNEK. “He’s impressive as he’s so young and so talented,” gushes Marco. “It took three hours and we had all the vocals recorded, everything I needed.” Yet most integral to the album is the soulful voice of Fiora, whose gilded tones ooze throughout.
Unlike most electronic artists who are tightly cornered into one niche, Tensnake has the luxury of slinking his way round Ibiza superclubs, underground dives and festival arenas, thanks to a solid background of producing, DJing and label running.
“It’s so easy now to focus on the stuff you love,” he says. “Don’t waste any time. There’s enough good music out there.” With Panorama Bar under his spell and deep-set in a groove to New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ at six in the morning, he seems to possess a near-psychic understanding of what people want to hear.
“A friend of mine is a lawyer and he was complaining the other day because he always has to deal with shit,” concludes Marco, polishing off his dinner. “Divorce, something getting stolen, or a car accident. But look – we’re here, and it’s great. I get to make people happy for a living!”
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Tensnake feat. Fiora and Nile Rodgers, ‘Love Sublime’, from ‘Glow’
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Words: Felicity Martin